Resurrection

A Guide for the Perplexed

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Lidija Novakovic
Guides for the Perplexed
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , February
     2016.
     224 pages.
     $27.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780567028150.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

There are six chapters in this fine survey of resurrection. The first chapter, “Resurrection Hope in Second Temple Judaism,” covers what the title implies, and introduces one of the volume’s repeated themes: writers about resurrection in general, and the resurrection of Jesus in particular, necessarily deploy the language and ideas of their existing worldviews. This deployment is apparent even when writers discuss something as novel as the resurrection of Jesus, and even when nothing in their worldviews actually prepared first century CE (and later) thinkers for the claim that what might have been expected at the end of time had actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth. The next three chapters attend to the New Testament material with chapters on “Non-Narrative Traditions about Jesus’ Resurrection” (meaning material beyond the Gospel accounts), “Narratives about the Discovery of the Empty Tomb,” and “Narratives about the Appearances of the Risen Jesus.” Author Lidija Novakovic concludes that it was these appearances that were the dominant reason for belief in the raising of Jesus, and that their evidential value eclipses that of the somewhat sparser, and perhaps later, empty tomb narratives.

The tone of the volume changes somewhat in chapter 5, “Jesus’ Resurrection and History.” Here Novakovic, in an impressive and balanced survey, generally succeeds in doing justice to a very wide range of attempts to answer the question: “How might historical investigation assess an alleged event that has no analogy in human history?”  This is the most heavily documented of the six chapters and incorporates a fairly extensive discussion of “the objectivity of Jesus’ [resurrection] appearances,” including a survey of what might be concluded from “contemporary cross-cultural analogies” (142-46), and especially from contemporary accounts of appearances of the recently deceased. A reader might imagine this to be the most difficult chapter to write, given the vast amount of literature to be surveyed. But it is puzzling that Richard Swinburne does not rate a mention; Novakovic certainly discusses (and understandably dismisses) substantially flimsier treatments than his. Her own conclusion to the chapter as a whole is that claims for any kind of historical vindication hinge on “the concept of historical enquiry and the boundaries of the discipline.…The New Testament documents themselves…are unanimous that Jesus’ resurrection was not an observable event but a divine act” (156). Chapter 6, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Theology,” surveys and assesses a range of (unsurprising) consequences of resurrection belief for theology. Each of the chapters ends with an admirably clear page or two of summary and conclusions. There is a bibliography (of about 110 items) and an (unnecessarily detailed?) scriptural index, but—regrettably—no index of the very wide range of subject matter covered.

If there is a weakness, it might be that the chapters appear a little too independent of one another—though I guess the volume would be rather larger in size if, for example, Novakovic had paused in the four scriptural chapters to ask how the application of her (later) conclusions about history and theology might enhance an understanding of their content. Or, in her chapter on history, she might have asked if there were and are theological and assorted religious and philosophical reasons why some historiographical discussions of the resurrection are written in the way that they are; and if there were and are historiographical reasons why some theology is written in a particular way. If, in each of the book’s first four chapters, she had introduced a novel genre for scripture called something like “theologized history,” readers might well have experienced a number of clarifying “Aha” moments. Or perhaps she could have added a final chapter to run together discussion of scripture, history, and theology in asking why the gospel accounts are written in the way they are—along the lines of Markus Bockmuehl’s persuasive chapter, “Resurrection,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge University Press, 2001), in which he concludes that “the New Testament writers affirm of the resurrection of Jesus both (1) that it is an event in historical time and space, and (2) that it cannot be straightforwardly understood as an event in historical time and space,” and that it is “the narrative mayhem that pervades the variously redacted accounts…which bears the most eloquent testimony to the force of their consensus” (Bockmuehl, CCJ, 109, 111, emphasis in the original). Nonetheless, for its size, Resurrection: A Guide for the Perplexed is the most comprehensive overview of the subject I have encountered—and one that is greatly enhanced by its clarity, readability and even-handed tone. Novakovic’s experience and skill as a teacher (in the Department of Religion at Baylor University) are everywhere apparent.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bob Robinson is Senior Research Fellow at Laidlaw College, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Date of Review: 
November 7, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lidija Novakovic (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Baylor University. She is the author of Messiah, the Healer of the Sick and a co-editor of The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations, volumes 3 and 6B

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